Iron Range fossil may open door to Minnesota's dinosaur past

A dinosaur claw fossil
A dinosaur claw fossil -- a little more than an inch long -- was found on Minnesota's Iron Range late this summer by a team of researchers at Hill Annex Mine.
Mark Ryan | Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

A dinosaur claw fossil found on Minnesota's Iron Range over the summer could help researchers better figure out what sort of dinosaurs lived in the state.

The fossil, described as a small claw bone, was found late this summer by a team of researchers at Hill Annex Mine on the state's Iron Range. The bone is being analyzed by paleontologists at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

The fossil appears to have originated about 90 million years ago, toward the latter half of the Cretaceous period, said John Westgaard, volunteer project lead at the Science Museum of Minnesota. It's one of only a handful of dinosaur fossils that have been found in the state.

"It gives us sort of a refresh on the idea that we can find some dinosaur material in Minnesota," Westgaard said.

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Researchers have known that dinosaurs existed in the state, but the condition of the sediment in the area at the time didn't preserve their fossils, said Macalester College paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers.

"Dinosaurs that were living and dying in Minnesota were basically just getting washed away and eroded away before they got a chance to be preserved," Curry Rogers said. "So it's pretty hard to find dinosaurs here for that reason."

Places in Minnesota where fossils were preserved, like the Hill Annex Mine, were later covered in debris brought in by glaciers, which further buried any dinosaur fossils that might have been on the sites, Curry Rogers said.

The fossil appears to belong to a meat-eating dinosaur, Curry Rogers said, which along with the other fossils found at the site, may help scientists learn more about the varieties of animals that lived here at the time.

"It's exciting for the people of Minnesota to think, we do have dinosaurs here," Curry Rogers said. "We always thought we did, but now we have some hard evidence for those animals."